Marie Alexandrovna, Tsarina. Twenty-nine autograph letters signed and twenty-five scribal telegrams to her daughter, Grand Duchess Marie, in French, some 200 pages, folio and 8vo, Livadia (Crimea), St Petersburg, Tsarskoe Selo, 13 January 1874 to 29 May/10 June 1879
Marie, Grand Duchess of Russia and Duchess of Edinburgh. Twelve autograph letters signed to her father, in Russian, some 60 pages, 8vo, Buckingham Palace, Balmoral, Osborne, Eastwell Park, Ashford, Malta, 15 March 1873 to 4/18 February 1878
an extraordinary romanov family correspondence between the tsar, tsarina and their only surviving daughter, grand duchess marie. demonstrating both the highly personal affection between Marie and her father, as well as recording the hostile feelings that existed between Britain and Russia in the 1870s.
Marie (1853-1920) was considered to be the most eligible royal bride in Europe and Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria's second son, had set his heart upon her as early as 1869. However, it was not until 1873 that such an alliance found favour with both the English and Russian courts and they were able to announce their engagement. They were married in St Petersburg in January 1874. Queen Victoria's antipathy to a Russian bride for her son was largely dispelled once Marie arrived in England and she was won over by the girl's warmth and charm. The correspondence, however, gives a vivid picture of the ambivalence and suspicion which attended the relationship between Britain and Russia in the 1870s, which easily degenerated into outright hostility, thus making the position of a Romanov married to a Windsor acutely difficult.
Alexander’s correspondence with his daughter ranges over a wide variety of subjects. The telegrams are generally more personal in nature, with family news and hopes for her happiness and welfare, while the letters are concerned with politics and foreign affairs. One telegram, however, was written shortly after an unsuccessful attempt on his life in April 1879: he reassures Marie that he is safe and remarks that this is the third time God has preserved him from death (“ce matin [pendant] ma promenade ordinaire un individu bien habille a tiré sur moi plusieurs coups de revolver sans m’atteindre on l’a arreté sur place…”).
Inevitably there is much discussion of the Eastern question, which was a source of contention between Britain and Russia. The uprising in Kabul prompts a reflexion that England might not find it easy to deal with either. Alexander sees help only from Germany and is awaiting the results of a meeting with Bismarck. He plans to replace Shuvalov as minister in London. At one point Alexander expresses the hope that the Queen is not angry at Alfred’s helping wounded Russian officers. The problem of the Nihilists requires a firm hand, and he cannot relax any security measures as he needs to get to the leaders. On mourning paper for his wife, he tries to convince Marie of the rightness of his morganatic marriage to Catherine Dolgoruka and objects to Queen Victoria’s trying to influence her opinion, contrasting her disapproval with the reaction of Sacha (his son and heir Alexander).
Tsarina Marie’s letters to her daughter are more outspokenly anti-English in their views, and she feels for Marie and Alfred (his position, as a naval officer, being especially delicate) being caught in the crossfire of a war in which Russia and England are on opposing sides. In an extraordinarily vitriolic outburst against Queen Victoria she expresses her relief that Marie is leaving England for a while
…comme tu respireras librement en quittant cette odieuse Angleterre et la présence de cette fausse vieille, qui si elle n’est pas un peu folle, est la plus méchante créature qu’il soit possible d’imaginer… (7/19 May 1877).
By 1878 the position has become even more difficult following the replacement of Derby as Foreign Secretary by Salisbury; she finds this ominous, as it suggests hostility towards Russia and makes the Tsar’s position very awkward.
Following the assassination attempt of 1879, she describes how “Papa” (Alexander II) is annoyed at having to have Cossacks with him all the time when he goes out, and finds it shameful for the people to see their Tsar thus in need of protection. The Tsarina died on 22 May/3 June 1880 in St Petersburg, just under a year before the assassination of her husband.
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